Re-design society: What to do?

The topic is exactly as it looks.

All this talk about failing banks, messed up automakers, and unaffordable mortgages has me thinking. Maybe the society as a whole needs to be re-designed. People argue the pros and cons of universal healthcare, others argue for letting things fall down before picking up the pieces. Modern day pirates sail the seas and hold huge oil tankers for ransom as people walk away from mortgages on 5-bedroom homes. Americans elect a black president, but cross-burnings are on the upswing. People are dying of pollution related ailments but coal continues to be the primary source of electricity. If the world hasn’t already gone to h*ll, it certainly seems well on the way.

Whatever the opinion, it’s clear that there is not only great upheaval, but also great opportunity for change.

If you could be the founder of a nation, how would you re-create yours? Would we be better off re-organizing into a world government?


PS: Discuss the big picture or the smallest details. Tackle one industry or edit the Constitution. Advocate nuclear energy or laissez faire policies. Maybe the world can think it’s way out of this mess and it can start here. Let there be nothing sacred in this thread, but make it polite. After all, violence and conflict is a huge part of the problem we are trying to solve.

If you think that the world has “gone to hell”, then you haven’t studied history long enough.

The world is more peaceful and stable then it has ever been. News is simply easier to transmit now, and bad news ends up being more popular.

As for your original question; no, I don’t think that society needs to be redesigned. That sounds like the mindset of a fascist dictator bent on “fixing the world” through some grand plan of restructuring society.

Innovation and solutions to problems will come from individuals and independent thinkers, as they always have, not from a mass-movement or governmental program.

I live in Canada, so my world remains frozen over and fairly insulated from the violence throughout the world. While I am thankful that I don’t live in Somalia, I’m also interested in how to make their lives better also.

The original framers of the US Constitution could have been autocrats had it not been for their relative benevolence.

Interesting that you expect someone else to come up with the solutions. I guess I was making the assumption that designers tend to be independent thinkers. I hope that is still the case.


Keifer. I can say that you and I are in total agreement, well put.

The world is more peaceful and stable then it has ever been.

I don’t agree at all. I take it you’re talking in terms of war, quality of life etc., in that case ok, I agree. But in terms of the enviorment, I don’t agree with your statement one bit. The world is a long way off being ‘peaceful’ and ‘stable’.

And I know this topic is called ‘Re-Design Society’ but it’s this society that got us to this point where if we don’t make a number of big changes in the small period of 10-20 years then things arn’t going to work out so great for us. So in this sense, society does need to be re-designed.

As for your original question; no, I don’t think that society needs to be redesigned. That sounds like the mindset of a fascist dictator bent on “fixing the world” through some grand plan of restructuring society.

This is twice in the last 2 days now I’ve seen a message that brings up a topic of ‘change’ and replies involving words like communist, facist, socialist…

I think this is a good topic and intrested to hear what everyone has to say. It’s an exciting time to be a designer, I watched the ‘11th Hour’ a few weeks back and every other sentance was involved the ‘re-design of industry’, I study ‘Industrial Design’, nice!

Boogey man: What’s the 11th hour? Could you post a link?

PurplePD: I agree with Keifer and Yo in that the world is more stable and peaceful than ever before. It’s also wealthier and healthier, I believe anyways.

However, I think capitalism is starting to feel ill in the same way Soviet style socialism did in the late '80’s. I think the fundamentals of global economic society is changing and capitalism will evolve, maybe to the point we won’t call it capitalism.

One thing that I noticed over the last 15 years is how the global economic bull years were largely created on debt creation by banks. Somehow, this did not cause inflation, or some other force to slow itself down. Now we are faced with Americans terminally in debt to banks and other financial institutions with a government that is nearly terminally in debt with the ROW. I’ve stated elsewhere that to continue with the same game, we perhaps need to reshuffle the global deck through debt forgiveness. That would be a revolutionary change to capitalism. Another option is to perhaps have monster inflation in order to accomplish the same goal. (Inflation reduces the real value of debt, therefore is good for debters, bad for those owed debt).

The thing I feel the least comfortable with is the lack of innovative thinking both by leaders and people. Everything I hear from the PM, president and Dept of Treasury is the same old same old. Bush saying that we shouldn’t be protectionist and that capitalism is strong. The treasury thinking that small changes in interest rates will change the economy. Essentially, it is late 20th century economic thinking being applied to crisis never encountered in the late 20th century.

This doesn’t even have a historical context, as Hoover started many of the radical programs later continued and expanded under FDR. Today we really have a group of ostrich in power and I have no faith that the next group won’t continue the head-in-the-sand policy.

What’s the 11th hour? Could you post a link?

It’s a documentary about the need for a sustainable society. It’s a bit dramatic, Hollywood got their hands on it, Leonardo DiCapprio is the bloody narrator for example and the first 30 minutes may depress you a little but it’s a well put together documentary, inspiring, and delivers a message. Check it out.

Man, you guys are pretty hard on :)ensen for posing a hypothetical question about developing a fictitious nation.

Just to play along, I would create a nation that is less automobile-centric than the US (and increasingly the rest of the world). I believe that the only way to do that is to regulate development in order to increase density around transportation hubs. Aside from the environmental concerns and increasing obesity rates, which can be attributed to our current reliance on the automobile, traffic accidents are the cause of over 40,000 deaths each year in the U.S. alone, so I think it is a problem that is worth addressing

It may seem like a small part of the big picture to some, but I think transportation and energy policies have implications on society that are far reaching. Then again, maybe I am just tired of getting honked at by impatient drivers as I ride into work.

For further viewing after the 11th hour, you could add Al Gore’s lecture on global warming, which has some good facts, makes some leaps of faith and (incidentally) made him a lot of money.

A slightly more spiritual but very interesting film called - ‘what the bleep’

And my personal favorite, which is about sustainable farming but really got me thinking about how I could apply the methodologies to design - ‘One Straw Revolution’, the main message of which is working with nature, not against it - DVD available on amazon.

Well put. Although accepting the status-quo is not acceptable either. Maybe the question is whether the world (us+planet+animals) can use thinkers and doers to increase its well being.


I agree with Keifer and Yo

Good intentions (the moral aspect) must correspond with good policy (the practical and logical aspect) in order to benefit society.

Woodrow Wilson and other progressives tried the one world government thing, and it didn’t work out too well - the government gave control of the money supply to private bankers (look where that’s led us).

LBJ and Jimmy Carter had noble intentions, but stupid policies did more harm than good. George W Bush made the same mistake. Obama will too.

Community organizers extorted Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac into giving home loans to people who couldn’t afford them. Look where that’s led us. Same thing with GM.

35-hour work week and raising the minimum wage are other good examples.

One world government is not the answer. As noted by others, moral capitalism has done so much for the overall well-being of the world. Increasing red tape, decreasing sovereignty (personal, family, local, national) does more harm than good.


Thanks for the support James, but argument and discussion was the intent. Besides, as someone who chooses to ride a recumbent, I’ve got a pretty thick skin.

Your comment about changing the transportation infrastructure would require a hugely different mindset for most people, including those in 3rd world countries. Could it be that designers, being part of the system, also find it hard to see the forest for the trees. Maybe designers don’t want to change society as it has generally been good for us. Or maybe that’s part of the problem to be solved. Maybe culture cannot be changed without also removing the baggage normally associated with some ideas.

Stability and peace are relative.

Could there be fewer uprisings because those in power have highly effective military force on wireless speed dial? Recall that the Luddites went around destroying machines during the Industrial Revolution. This was possible when police forces had single shot weapons and calling in the army required Pony Express and a letter with a wax seal. Now, any demonstration is quickly met with Lexan shields and automatic weapons.

Could there be fewer large wars simply because more nations have an isotope or two available for retaliation. Notice that Pakistan and India have stopped being publicly belligerent toward each other. This is why I know that Iran has not achieved their bomb. You work like hell to create and blow up a test device and then the others each send you a red phone and tell you sit down and shut up. And you do because you have only one or two and they have 1000. Will it be different if a terrorist organization gets hold of one? What happens to Israel when one of the Arab nations gets one?

People in western nations generally no longer fear death from starvation or death from war. But is this any different that death by obesity or death by tractor-trailer?

And so we have the current economic crisis. It can’t be a depression until the government starts using the word. But did we get here by consuming too much? Is the future one of less consumption, and not by choice, but because it will be a different point of equilibrium?

Take banks. They say the only banks left standing on two legs are the Canadian ones and that’s because they are highly regulated. Maybe this is true. Certainly, the President of France is blaming the US for their banking woes. Even the Swiss banks have seen a little too much action with bad mortgages. Now, I understand that Citigroup is worth the same as the formerly much smaller Royal Bank of Canada. If so, maybe the Big Canadian banks should just buy the American banking system and apply their highly regulated system to it. Might work better than the wild west system that has fallen down and taken so many casualties with it.

And there is now talk of a Chinese takeover of GM. Maybe that’s good for the industry. Who knows, maybe we’ll be able to buy a cars at the Walmart, less the recalls for melamine. But instead, what if the State of California bought GM and started making cars with zero emissions to meet their anti-pollution standards? I’m surprised the train and bus industry hasn’t started to buy up the automakers just to break them up.

And the US insurance industry… isn’t it owned by the government through it’s 80% stake in AIG. What if they started leaning on the HMOs to lower their rates for procedures and hospital stays? Whether that’s good for the people or not, it would certainly be cheaper for the government.

For centuries, the empire system worked to advance civilization. Then it was replaced by the feudal system and then the colonial system. Maybe the current system has run it’s course too and needs to be replaced with something that will allow civilization to advance again.


Well put. Although accepting the status-quo is not acceptable either. Maybe the question is whether the world (us+planet+animals) can use thinkers and doers to increase its well being.


Well, yes, accepting the status-quo isn’t really acceptable in our current circumstances either.

The general point I was trying to make was that some sort of forced policy won’t turn out well; solutions will come from businesses and individuals, not from government. Does anyone really have confidence in the government to fix serious issues?

Should the we / the government encourage innovation to solve global problems? Of course. But should policies be dictated and freedoms curtailed all in the name of the greater good? Never.

A think a good comparison would be the concept of charity. If an individual or a group wants to donate money to a particular charity, then have at it, that’s wonderful. What isn’t wonderful, or moral for that matter, is the forced theft of money by the government to donate to charity.

Consider that most charitable organizations use a small percentage of their donations for . The government, on the other hand, always wastes a good percentage of YOUR money in a quagmire of bureaucracy.

Neither I nor anyone else owes anyone anything until we decide to do it of our own free will. It’s a slippery slope when you start curtailing the rights of the individual in the name of the greater good.

Regarding the whole “environmental doomsday” nonsense; the world isn’t going to end now or anytime soon. Driving a Prius, planting a tree, and becoming a vegetarian aren’t going to save the world, if it even needs saving. If you want to be a hippie, go right ahead. Just don’t expect me to be happy when you force the ideology upon me.

Also, don’t forget that there’s a very big difference between being a “conservationist” and being an “environmentalist.” The former is more of a logical position on resources (be smart, don’t waste, etc.), while the latter is more akin to religion (humanity & industrialization = evil, nature = good, focus on “green”, etc.) Unfortunately these two get muddled together quite often.

So to summarize: Yes, we need to solve these problems. No, we need not overreact and make rash decisions regarding personal rights and the government. We’ve survived up to this point. A bunch of hurricanes aren’t going to wipe out humanity.

/politics :stuck_out_tongue:

This is a great discussion.

Forced virtue is a vice. People should be free to choose good and bad. Americans give more as private citizens to charity than the government, and I think this is the best way to go about things in general.

And this just in…


Well, if the government says it’s the end of the world, then it must be true. Where do I sign away my freedoms and income? :laughing:

I love predictions like these. How many will stick? 10% 50% 100%?
Predictions and trend forecasting are worthless exercises for people who think things happen in some neat line graph.

Just because US intelligence failed the last time the warmongers relied on it, doesn’t mean that it’s entirely faulty now.

Some of the analysis is pretty smart, especially the part about nuclear proliferation. Any physics grad can do nuclear, it’s only a question of access to the parts and materials. And that might be something that can be bought now that the economy is in rough shape. Remember the near collapse of the post-Soviet economy… the biggest fear was control over the nukes. What’s to stop that from happening in this new climate of financial doom? If the scientists are worried for their retirement…

As for the timelines… well…?

As for the OP, let’s start with something familiar. Take China. People all over hope for democracy to bloom there. I don’t. And not just in this lifetime, but any other. This is a place that has learned how to live within an autocratic system that has been in place for 5000 years. It’s been very successful for them. Since democracy in political form is maybe 500 years old, maybe it can learn something from the Chinese.


I wasn’t referring to the quality of US Intelligence or even this specific report, but in the false trap that is trend forecasting. The majority of significant events come from unexpected sources/causes, even if they seem obvious in hindsight.
My point is that if you say “these 10 things may happen…get ready!” but only 4 actually come true, you are in fact preparing the wrong scenario for those other 6 and are possibly making the situation worse. And did you get the 6 important ones wrong or the 4 important right? or visa versa?

Predictions are hollow.

Energy and Climate Change are great examples. We know that there are issues we are facing, but those issues aren’t really about polar bears and windfall taxes on Oil Co. They are about population and overshooting our resources and scale. If I run my car in my garage it will kill me. If I run my car outside it won’t. Change the scale to 6.5b people and you push the planet to respond with force. As McDonough points out, the idea of “away” is no more.

Nukes are scary. No doubt. But what can I do about it? Nothing except worry and I have too many other things to worry about that I can do something about.

I don’t think anyone sees China as moving towards democracy…it is opening up a bit, but only in the name of growth. Its becoming more like a capitalist-communist hybrid. Will it work? Maybe…but they seem like contradictory forces most of the time. It will be interesting to see how the Chinese govt. deals with their own economic slow down and the social unrest that is popping up.

Back to your original post. Designing something like society is a non-starter in my book. The unintended consequences would be great. It is not enough to mean well, the solutions have to work for everyone, an impossible task.

I know this sounds cliche, but Think Globally, Act Locally is all about understanding the problems the world faces (which is harder to do than it sounds) and see how you can affect your life, culture, neighborhood, family for the better.
The best example of this I can think of is Dave Eggers and 826.
watch the whole thing, but at 10:50 he makes the money statement.

now i’m rambling.

I think nukes are the smallest problem for North America. A nuclear weapon is far from a nuclear reactor, although both are significant engineering projects. Nuclear weapons require much more refined uranium than a reactor uses. The uranium in a reactor is completely useless as a weapon.

Another cost with nukes is delivery. The Pacific and Atlantic are still the greatest military advantage for North America. Even to this day, there are only two powers with the ability to strike NA with a nuclear weapon. Of those powers, neither has significantly upgraded these weapons in 20-30 years. It’s not a priority.

To understand how hard intercontinental weapons are, just look at how much North Korea has struggled to build a missile to reliably and accurately strike South Korea or Japan. It’s laughable to talk about these people striking the US within 15 years.

Basically, that means that nukes will be a local problem. This is what’s happening in India.

The bigger issue, to me, is the distribution of communication technologies and information technology. Asango mentions China’s rejection of democracy, but how dictatorial is China today versus 30 years ago? Someone with more knowledge could problem flesh this out, but it seems to me that the central power is less and less in control. Look at the product problems they’ve had both in their domestic market and internationally (the melamine in food, etc). That’s a loss of control and I think it’s significant that their crackdown has not seemed to slow these problems.

Looking at China from a historical perspective is more important. The fall of the USSR didn’t have to do with nukes, but rather fax machines and teletype. That’s why the CIA didn’t predict it. The whole conspiracy to overthrow communism took place in distributed digital technologies that allowed fast and secure transmissions. In the USSR, this technology had only been distributed through the military. In China, cel phones and computers are being distributed to the population at large. The reason it hasn’t led to a revolution, is because things are going well. We’ll see what happens now…